Category Archives: China-U.S.

China And Russia Fly Too Close For The Quad’s Comfort

A Russian TU-95 bomber and Chinese H-6 bombers fly over East China Sea in this handout picture taken by Japan Air Self-Defence Force and released by the Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan March 24, 2020.

CHINESE AND RUSSIAN nuclear bombers conducting a joint exercise over the Sea of Japan while in Tokyo the leaders of Japan, the United States, India and Australia are discussing regional security sends a particular message of togetherness on the part of Beijing and Moscow.

The aircraft (seen above in a Defence Ministry of Japan photograph) did not breach territorial airspace. However, Japan’s defence minister, Nobuo Kishi said it was the fourth time since November that long-distance joint Russian and Chinese air force flights have passed near Japan. Such flights date back to at least 2019

Beijing has been ambivalent about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite the effusiveness of Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin when they met during the Beijing Winter Olympics in February over their relationship ‘without limits’. It adds another headwind to those buffeting China that Xi could do without.

Nonetheless, the invasion has connected the security situations at Asia’s eastern and western extremes. The meeting of the four leaders in Tokyo under the auspice of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (‘the Quad’) was plain on that point. However, they were as explicit in saying the Quad is not an embryonic ‘Asian NATO’ as Beijing has been about claiming its relationship with Moscow is not an alliance.

Neither assertion cuts much ice with the other. Nor is there much getting around that an alternative international governance model for the region just sounds like another way of describing challenging China’s regional expansion.

The Quad has no formal institutions (unlike NATO). It has conducted joint naval exercises, but it is also looking to advance its soft power by promoting intra-regional cooperation in areas like ‘green’ transport, climate change and cybersecurity.

This modular approach to regional security aligns closely with the Biden administration’s preference for building coalitions of countries and institutions around specific mutual needs — and defining security extremely broadly — rather than traditional security alliances and trade agreements. The newly announced Indo-Pacific Economic Framework fits that mould, too.

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Plain Talk On Taiwan Overshadows Wooliness of IPEF

NOT FOR THE first time, US President Joe Biden has said that the United States would defend Taiwan militarily in the event of China using force to take control of the island. Nor is it the first time that his diplomats have had to walk back his comments, even before the inevitable condemnation from Beijing. 

At the same time, Biden, who was responding to a question during a press conference during his visit to Tokyo, said there had been no change in US policy towards Taiwan. The US One China policy holds that Washington maintains formal diplomatic relations only with Beijing and none with Taiwan and exercises’ strategic ambiguity’ over Beijing’s One China principle that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China to be reunified one day. Part of that ambiguity is not to say publicly that the United States would defend Taiwan militarily.

It has always been an illusionary fudge. The same year that Washington and Beijing established formal diplomatic ties (1979), setting the intractable Taiwan issue to one side, the US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act. The act guarantees US support for the island and specifies that the US must help Taiwan defend itself. It has been the basis on which the United States has continued arms sales to Taipei.

As regional leaders watch China build up its armed forces and demonstrate prowess in the skies around Taiwan and the waters of the East and South China Seas, concern about military action against Taiwan has increased. Pressure has been quietly mounting for the United States to be explicit about its military support for Taiwan in such an event. 

Recently, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said it was time for the United States to state clearly that it would defend Taiwan. Our man in Tokyo tells us that the incumbent, Fumio Kishida, has passed on the same view. 

Opinion in Washington splits between officials and politicians taking a more assertive posture towards Beijing and those who fear provoking Beijing into advancing its plans for reunification. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made the question of whether something similar could happen in Taiwan more prominent in Washington discussions.

Beijing’s view, repeated after Biden’s latest remarks, is that the Taiwan question and the Ukraine issue are fundamentally different. Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that to compare the two is absurd. 

Biden was speaking a truth hiding in plain sight as his administration seeks haltingly to mould a China policy that incorporates the direction set by his predecessor Donald Trump, but without the idiosyncratic rhetorical toxicity and disregard for diplomatic process. 

His comments on Taiwan overshadowed the announcement of his administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). The IPEF aims to fill the vacuum of US economic engagement in the region left by Trump’s withdrawal from the US-initiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in 2017 and cold-shouldering of its successor, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

At this point, the IPEF is little more than a bare framework and far from a conventional trade agreement that most of the 13 US allies that have signed up for it would prefer. The trade-agreement adverse Biden administration may cast it as a trade arrangement for the 21st century. However, it reflects domestic US political realities, including needing to satisfy Biden’s organised labour constituents and the groundswell of anti-China economic nationalism in Washington, as it does the promotion of regional economic integration.

Many of the South and Southeast Asian participant countries will be uneasy about the way the IPEF is being portrayed within the United States and among Washington’s closest regional security allies as a way of containing China’s growing economic sway over the region. China’s closest neighbours want deeper economic relationships with both powers.

The IPEF has four pillars:

  • fair and resilient trade, encompassing seven subtopics, including labour, environmental, and digital standards; 
  • supply chain resilience; 
  • infrastructure, clean energy, and decarbonisation; and 
  • tax and anti-bribery and anti-corruption.

Participants in the IPEF can pick and choose from that menu as they wish. Even though this should eliminate some of the horsetrading that so often stalls conventional trade deals, negotiating agreements for each IPEF pillar will neither be quick nor easy.

The target deadline is likely the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting in November 2023, which the United States will be hosting.

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A Decade Of Rocks And Reefs Becoming South China Sea Islands

2012 file photograph of Chinese fishing boats and radar station on Subic Reef in the Spratly Isands in the South China Sea

IT IS ALMOST a decade to the month since a sharp-eyed reader inquired about the white-domed object in a photograph (reproduced above) illustrating a post about Beijing’s use of fishing fleets to assert its maritime sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

It was a newly installed radar station and a helipad, towering over the old wharf that China had built to establish its claim to Zhubi Reef in Nansha — Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands to the rest of the world — in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

A decade of extensive island-building on, the contemporaneous assertion of another claimant to those waters, the Philippines, that China intended to use those enhanced specs of rocks and reefs for military purposes looks a lot more credible than Beijing’s claim that its radar stations sprouting up across the Spratlys were for weather monitoring. Not that Beijing’s claim sounded too plausible at the time.

New US Navy aerial reconnaissance photographs released by the US news agency, Associated Press, two of whose reporters were aboard the reconnaissance flight, show how fully militarized some the Spratlys have become, with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment, and fighter jets.

This AP composite shows the difference in Mischief Reef between 1999 and now.

This combo photo shows Chinese structures taken Feb. 8, 1999, top, and March 20, 2022, at the Mischief Reef in the disputed South China Sea.(AP Photos/Aaron Favila)

US Navy Indo-Pacific commander Admiral John Aquilino says construction of military facilities on Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fiery Cross appeared to have been completed.

So where next?

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The Longer The Ukraine Crisis, The More Of A Non-Player China Becomes

PRESIDENT XI JINPING can be taken at face value when he told his US counterpart Joe Biden in Friday’s two-hour video call that China does not want war in Ukraine.

His friend, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, giving the West a quick and bloody nose in Ukraine would have been one thing. Xi could have cheered on from the side but be otherwise uninvolved. His view of the West’s secular decline and democracies’ failings would have been further confirmed.

However, events have turned out badly for China, and become worse the longer they drag on. The West’s response to Russia’s invasion has been forceful and unified. An anticipated lightening military victory has become a siege war of attrition. Soaring energy, metals and food prices and renewed disruption to supply chains have stiffened the economic headwinds buffeting China.

Most of all, China is caught uncomfortably in the middle diplomatically. Xi cannot (and will not) abandon his friend, yet, nor can he side with the West over the conflict.

China has had to perform diplomatic gymnastics to preserve its principles of indivisible sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of others, both violated by Russia’s invasion. Calls for resolving the conflict by diplomatic means sound rote, and Beijing’s lack of experience and possibly capacity to broker peace have been exposed.

Economically, future trade with Europe and the United States, already more than five times larger than that with Russia, is in the balance. Maintaining economic relations with the West while opposing US ‘hegemony’ has been a tightrope Beijing has chosen to walk. Yet, as Biden made clear to Xi in their call, getting knocked off by the imposition of yet more Western economic sanctions for aiding Moscow is a growing risk. China will be particularly reticent to help Moscow circumvent financial sanctions, as those are where it and Chinese firms will be most vulnerable.

Beijing also needs Russia’s implicit security guarantees in Central Asia for the Belt and Road. These will be coloured by the outcome of Ukraine, which limits China’s opportunities now to exploit Russian weakness to secure cheap energy and commodities.

China has never joined Russia in any military intervention abroad and is unlikely to start now, even if it supplies materials for the Russian army’s use. War in Ukraine is not a core interest, and its leadership displays caution on matters not related to its core interests. In such circumstances, it prioritises creating a stable international environment conducive to China’s economic development.

It does not look as if Beijing knows how to do that, beyond repeating calls for a negotiated settlement. A telltale sign was the readouts of the Xi-Biden call: whereas the United States portrayed Ukraine as the focus of the call, China’s portrayed US-China relations as the main topic.

Yet taking a formal lead in mediating a peace in Ukraine would underline how Beijing’s relationship with Moscow was more one of convenience and a shared adversary rather than the ‘no limits’ alliance portrayed. It could also be taken domestically as yielding to Western pressure.

Further, failure of such talks would be a diplomatic embarrassment that could rebound internally with uncertain effects, given the imminence of the Party Congress in the autumn.

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US Reminds China It Is Still Taking Care Of Business

JUST BEFORE FORMER US President Donald Trump left office, he signed into law the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act (HFCAA), which allows the delisting of any foreign — for which read Chinese — company publicly traded in the United States that does not let US regulators inspect its finances to the same extent required of US companies.

US-listed Chinese companies must disclose their non-US operations’ audits, which Chinese regulations prohibit auditors from sharing.

The law also targets alleged Chinese government control of such companies and was part of Trump’s broader strategy to limit Chinese companies’ access to US capital and technology.

On March 8, HFCAA was used for the first time. The US Securities and Exchange Commission provisionally listed five Chinese companies that it said were not in compliance — biotech firms BeiGene and Zai Lab, Yum China, which runs KFC and Pizza Hut fast food outlets, ACM Research, a semiconductor process equipment manufacturer, and pharma firm HutchMed China.

As the accounting scandal involving Luckin Coffee in 2020 showed, there are legitimate investor reasons for HFCAA, and its wheels turn exceedingly slowly. Delisting will not necessarily follow. The firms have opportunities to come into compliance. Even if they do not, 2024 is the earliest delisting would occur.

So the timing may be coincidental, but this Bystander doubts it.

Concern about Russia using China to end-run Western sanctions over Ukraine is growing within the Biden administration. The SEC’s announcement follows warnings by US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo that the US could ‘essentially shut down’ any Chinese companies that defy US sanctions by continuing to supply chips and other advanced technology to Russia.

Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp, a chipmaker Raimondo mentioned, could become a new Huawei.

Delisting the five companies named would not necessarily impact US efforts to isolate Russia technologically. and certainly not in time to disrupt wartime supply lines.

However, the threat adds to the signals to China and its companies to tread carefully when it comes to US sanctions (and Chinese firms will be careful not to put their exports to the US and EU at risk by overtly violating them), or exploiting the situation created by the war in Ukraine.

This week, Bloomberg reported that some of China’s state-owned energy and commodities giants, including China National Petroleum Corp, China Petrochemical Corp, Aluminum Corp of China and China Minmetals Corp, are considering the opportunities for investment in Russian counterparts such as Gazprom and Rusal.

As well as providing economic support to a strategic partner, any deals would bolster Beijing’s efforts to improve its energy and food security. China is already the leading market for Russia’s exports, taking 13.5% of the total. That will only grow as Western sanctions that China has no intention of honouring bite on Russia.

Trade deals announced shortly before the invasion of Ukraine when Russian President Vladimir Putin was in China for the Beijing Winter Olympics last month now seem even more like a prelude to the future.

That future will be about trade deals in which Russian commodities fulfil China’s needs for energy and food, and China meets Russia’s needs for technology and advanced manufactures containing it like aircraft.

Update: Reuters news agency reports that discussions between Washington and Beijing on resolving the audit issue are progressing ‘relatively smoothly‘, although it sounds as if there is still a fair way to go to bridge the gap between the two sides.

Footnote: Around 250 Chinese companies listed on US exchanges could fall foul of HFCAA, according to another little-known Trump-era agency, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which advises on the US national security implications of China’s bilateral economic activities. A steady addition of small batches to the SEC’s provisional list would accelerate the relocation of listings from the United States to Hong Kong.

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Walmart Put On Notice In China

THERE IS NO ambiguity in the message the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Party’s anti-graft watchdog, has sent to US retailer Walmart: put products from Xinjiang back into its Sam’sSam’s Club stores in China or face a consumer boycott.

The need for foreign multinationals to choose which of their major markets to prioritise — China or the United States — is being ratcheted up another notch by Beijing.

In late December, Chinese social media lit up over allegations that Walmart had stopped selling items from Xinjiang at its members-only Sam’s Clubs, which, unlike their US incarnation, are upmarket hypermarkets in China. Netizens claimed they could no longer buy Xinjiang-sourced items such as apples and dates on the Sam’sSam’s Club app that were previously available, and that the groceries had been de-stocked by Walmart. Typical Xinjiang produce such as cantaloupes and apricots were available, but they were not from Xinjiang.

The flare-up emerged two days after US President Joe Biden signed into law a bill banning companies from selling goods from Xinjiang or containing Xinjiang-made components unless they can prove forced labour was not involved.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection’s statement pulls no punches in dismissing suggestions that this was the result of inventory management:

Removing all products from a region without a valid reason hides an ulterior motive behind it, exposes stupidity and short-sightedness, and is bound to suffer its own evil consequences…Suppressing and boycotting Xinjiang products is another “card” played by Western anti-China forces, which is doomed to failure… From H&M Group’s boycott of Xinjiang cotton, to Intel’s letter to suppliers demanding that Xinjiang labour and products be banned, to the removal of all Xinjiang products from Sam’s Club, these Western companies that once flaunted no political interference have punched themselves in the face with their own actions.

The anti-graft watchdog also noted the expected patriotism of consumers in such circumstances:

Chinese consumers expressed strong dissatisfaction and resisted with the action of returning cards, expressing their position of resolutely safeguarding national interests.

If the remedy required of Walmart — to back down — is not forthcoming, then, the Commission says, Chinese consumers will ‘respond resolutely with practical actions’.

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RCEP Arrives

THE CHINA-STEERED Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will come into effect on January 1, bringing together China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the ten ASEAN nations in the world’s largest free trading agreement (FTA).

The 15 nations account for more than half the world’s exports and almost one-third of its GDP and its population. More significantly, they will likely account for most of the world’s economic growth in the coming decades.

RCEP was signed on November 15, 2020, having been hurried forward by Beijing. Ratification by the required nine signatory nations was achieved on November 2, and the agreement will come into effect in the minimum stipulated 60 days. Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Myanmar are the only four nations left to ratify it.

About 90% of goods will be traded tariff-free within RCEP, although that is largely the case already as ASEAN has FTAs with Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. The bigger benefit will likely come from dismantling non-tariff barriers.

This will bolster China, Japan and South Korea by strengthening their supply chains in the region. Regional supply chains are likely to become more China-centric, and, as the largest economy, China will be well-positioned to dictate terms and technical standards.

RCEP’s less industrially advanced nations such as Cambodia and Laos will benefit less substantially and have been given extensive phase-in periods to ease the transition. (Long transitions, exceptions, exclusions and non-enforceability of many of its 20 chapters are quite a feature of RCEP.)

The raw materials, machinery, motor vehicles and consumer products sectors are likely to benefit most, but trade in agricultural products, always contentious, is not covered under RCEP. RCEP also ducks other controversial issues such as subsidies for state-owned enterprises and labour rights.

Trade in services will be liberalised along two tracks. One group of countries — China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines and New Zealand — will open selective service sectors on a ‘positive list’ basis. The others will open all service sectors unless expressly excluded.

RCEP’s membership has considerable overlap with that of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The latter addresses indirect barriers such as state-owned enterprises, subsidies, labour rights, environmental protections and climate change.

It also provides stronger intellectual property rights protections than RCEP. This may steer investment to RCEP members who are also part of CPTPP.

RCEP should help drive economic recovery in Southeast Asia in the short term as the region battles through the latest surge of Covid-19.

In the medium term, it should increase trade and investment within the region. Estimates vary widely, but there is agreement that it will be material and in part at the expense of other parts of the world.

This will accelerate the emergence of a China-centric regional economic sphere that has been occurring for some years and is distinct from markets in the West and the supply chains that feed them.

The shift of the world’s centre of economic gravity to the region would be slowed if the United States and the EU were to join one of the two groupings. Prospects for either are dim, with an increased number of bilateral trade agreements more likely, especially with security partners.

In the longer term, as RCEP’s member countries develop, they will have to address the structural, protectionist issues that the agreement has parked to the side. That will bring political tensions.

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Xinjiang Gets A New Party Boss, And Subtle Shift In Emphasis On Stability

THE NEW PARTY secretary in Xinjing, Ma Xingrui, promises no change in the region’s ‘stability’ policy, implying the human-rights confrontations between China and the United States and the EU will continue.

However, his early remarks touched on the development of Xinjiang’s supply chains and the need to integrate the region into the Belt and Road Initiative, suggesting an attempt to develop export routes through Eurasia to the EU to drive a commercial wedge between Washington and Brussels.

On December 25, when his appointment was announced, Ma pledged to maintain his predecessor Chen Quanguo’s focus on stability and implement President Xi Jinping’s blueprint for Xinjiang.

Two days later, during his first appearance in Urumqi, Ma shifted tone, saying Xinjiang should become more integrated with the Belt and Road Initiative and called for the region’s supply chains to be modernised and the climate for international business made more welcoming, including through tax breaks. He also said that development and security in the region had to be balanced and that maintaining stability was a long-term general goal.

Ma Xingrui, Party Boss of Xinjiang seen in Urumqi on December 27, 2021. Photo credit: Xinjiang DailyMa, 62, (left), has a commercial and trade background. He was most recently governor of Guangdong province, a post he took up in 2017 after a couple of years as Party boss in Shenzhen. A similarly short spell as a vice-minister of industry and information technology had followed six years running China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., the main contractor for China’s space program, from 2007 to 2013 (Ma is an aerospace engineer by profession).

He also has security experience. When governor of Guangdong, Ma was a member of the central coordinating group on Hong Kong and Macau affairs as Beijing brought Hong Kong more tightly under its control through the crackdown on dissent via the National Security Law. Providing he does not blot his copybook in Xinjiang, Ma looks set for a seat on the Politburo following next year’s Party Congress.

Chen, four years Ma’s senior and under US sanctions concerning the treatment of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang, is moving to a yet unnamed new position. In his outgoing comments, he praised Xi’s ‘helmsmanship’ — a phrase popping up a lot of late — for what, according to state media, he called ‘the general social stability, high-quality economic growth and a happy and peaceful life for the region’s residents’.

China has repeatedly denied human rights abuses against Uighurs, saying its policies in Xinjiang address extremism and poverty.

On December 25, the regional government ran through the standard arguments of Beijing’s position in response to the bill that US President Joe Biden signed into law that bans imports of goods from Xinjiang unless companies can prove no forced labour is involved. Intel and Walmart are the latest US multinationals ensnared in this aspect of the dispute.

Even with the lures that Ma may dangle, US multinationals will not find it any easier to bite while the current mood in Washington prevails.

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Walmart Gets Ensnared In US-China Dispute Over Xinjiang

NOW IT IS Walmart. Chinese social media has lit up over allegations that Walmart has stopped selling items from Xinjiang at its members-only Sam’s Clubs in China.

Netizens claimed they could no longer buy Xinjiang-sourced items such as apples and dates on the Sam’s Club app that were previously available, and that the groceries had been de-stocked by Walmart. The nationalistic state media, Global Times, said it had found typical Xinjiang produce such as dates, cantaloupes and apricots available, but they were not from Xinjiang.

There has not yet been a formal response from Walmart.

The flare-up comes a day after US President Joe Biden signed into law the bill Congress passed last week, banning all imports of Xinjiang products into the United States without pre-authorised clearance following proof that forced labour was not involved.

The law has already escalated tensions between Washington and Beijing, which denies all allegations of human rights abuses in the province, and is increasingly dragging multinationals into the fray.

Walmart is only the latest Western company to face the Sisyphean task of balancing reliance on Chinese suppliers and markets with the need to comply with US sanctions and maintain its reputation in Western markets.

US semiconductor maker Intel ran into a storm earlier this week after it apologised to China for reminding its suppliers that they had to comply with the US sanctions over Xinjiang. Its apology, posted on its Chinese social media accounts, that its commitment to avoid supply chains from Xinjiang was an expression of compliance with US law, rather than a statement of its position on the issue, was criticised for being insincere at best and duplicitous at worst in both China and the United States.

The stakes are higher for Walmart because it is an easier target for a direct Chinese consumer boycott than Intel, whose products go into other manufacturers’ products.

Sam’s Club is positioned as a premium grocery in China, unlike in the United States, where it is a bulk discount club. It has been a rare success story for Walmart in China. The US retailer is struggling online and offline against domestic rivals in the highly competitive retailing sector.

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The Chips Are Down For US Companies In China

THE APOLOGY TO China by US semiconductor manufacturer Intel for asking its suppliers not to use products and labour from Xinjiang due to human rights abuses against Uighurs is the latest example of a multinational company finding how uncomfortable it is to balance its reliance on Chinese suppliers and markets with the need to comply with US laws and sanctions and maintain its reputation in the West.

Its apology, posted on its Chinese social media accounts, that its commitment to avoid supply chains from Xinjiang was an expression of compliance with US law, rather than a statement of its position on the issue, was criticised for being insincere at best and duplicitous at worst in both China and the United States. The days when what is said in Chinese on Weibo of WeChat stays in China are long gone.

The nature of Intel’s product makes it less likely that it will suffer a consumer boycott in the way that Beijing punished fashion and sporting apparel companies H&M, Burberry, Adidas and Nike for similar perceived transgressions. Furthermore, like other countries, China is short of chips right now. However, the incident will reconfirm for policymakers their wisdom in expanding indigenous production to reduce reliance on US technology.

The greater risk to Intel is of retaliation against its operations in China, where it employs 10,000 people and generates a quarter of its revenue. Arbitrary administrative actions are the perpetual concern of foreign companies operating in China.

Late last month, Vice-Foreign Minister Xie Feng, whose portfolio is North America, met with representatives of US businesses operating in China, urging them to lobby against the Biden administration’s hardline stance against Beijing. None too subtly, he said that US companies that stayed silent could not expect to prosper in China. 

Speaking out in the way Intel did was not what he had in mind.

There is an emerging divide between US businesses that trade with China or source from it and those operating within the Chinese market. 

The former group seek to maintain as light a footprint in China as possible to minimise the ever-present risks against their operations and staff. Where possible, they operate arm’s length business relationships with local firms or licence their brands, products and services within the country.

The latter set has scant interest in the United States taking a harder line with China over commercial and technology issues, intermingling trade policy with national security, and the nascent decoupling of the two economies, most visible in capital markets and technology. 

Those companies, it should be said, show no indications of withdrawing from China. Yet they will have to become increasingly embedded in the ‘domestic circulation’ side of China’s ‘dual circulation’ development model, with all that that entails, and adjust their risk tolerance for damaging their reputation in international markets accordingly.

Given the changing attitudes in the United States and Europe towards China among lawmakers and corporate stakeholders like employees and customers, striking that balance may prove not only uncomfortable but impossible. 

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